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  • Karen Luttenberger Smith

Mohawk Troubadours

The songs we sang at Camp are a cherished part of Mohawk for campers and alumni and elicit powerful and sacred memories. At our recent Alumni Reunion over Labor Day weekend, it was obvious that camp songs (with almost every lyric exactly recalled) remain in our hearts and souls. We don’t forget them and they have connected alumni and campers over decades. To prevent the loss of some of these songs (and at times to demonstrate correct tempos (!)), Cathy Horne had a great idea: have Mohawk alumnae come to Camp during sessions and teach/enhance songs. Current campers are definitely exuberant and love to sing, yet some of the tunes have become a bit like loud cheering at top speed and some songs may eventually lose their meaning or be forgotten altogether. Cathy called out to the alumnae and we answered. One alumna, Christy Schilling, at some point called these singers/teachers the “Mohawk Troubadours.” The name stuck and a new Mohawk group was born!

In July, two groups of alumnae joined campers and staff at lunch in the dining hall and led everyone in singing much-loved songs. Both days were an incredible success. Campers and staff enjoyed this connection but to be really honest, the alumnae were absolutely enthralled being back at Mohawk with campers. The happiness we experienced lasted for days as we not only got to be at Camp but were able to connect with current campers sharing what we love. Full disclosure: I use “we” because I was fortunate to be a member of the second group that participated in these joyous events.

The first group consisted of Suzanne Howard, Christy Schilling, Martha Connors, and Amanda Quaintance on guitar. Although not part of this group, I experienced Amanda’s guitar at the reunion as she became our guitarist at our “Senior Jawak” (another new Mohawk group) campfire at this past reunion and know how much she added to the day in July. The second group was made up of Sarah Doyle McCormack, Christy Schilling (yes - she did both sessions, driving hours from Provincetown, MA, to be there), yours truly, and another amazing guitarist, Lynne Peloquin. Like Amanda, Lynne’s talent and knowledge of every camp song going back through decades made this day so incredibly special.

It was difficult to choose songs; we only sang a few and wanted to choose upbeat songs. Of course, some well-loved songs from way back aren’t quite appropriate (as much as we wanted to sing them!) and we all love so many songs. We focused on rounds (“Boomdiada”) and other tunes. We were glad that Patrick had a request: he wanted campers to really learn “Linger” for the upcoming banquet and so we all went over that. We later heard that campers did a great job with it.

We had been told that many of the songs were being sung faster and faster every year. We decided to end with The Mohawk Fight Song. Everyone sang with great enthusiasm as always, yet it was very fast. We told them that we had always sung it a bit slower and presented something of a challenge. We proposed to sing it at our tempo for them after they had sung their rendition. We then asked them to be honest and choose which version they preferred. We were stunned: they chose our “slower” version.

After our singing, campers could choose to remain for a while if they wished to sing some other songs, mostly ballads and campfire songs. Many did. We sang songs such as “Barges” among many others. This was a lovely time with campers. What surprised us was the avalanche of questions they had. We were plied with questions about our time at Mohawk, particularly the Mugwumps, the old quad, which cabin was which, and others. Since we had planned to sing “We’re All Together Again” during which we call out for units and staff, we were a bit thrown that the order of the units had changed since our time at Mohawk. In order of age, it is now Jawaks, Utes, Mohegans, Oscadees, and Seniors. We told the campers about the order of units when we were campers and answered more questions about everything from Mohawkers they had heard about from years ago to the Lighthouse. We were thrilled by their interest in everything and everyone Mohawk!

For us Troubadours, these visits were heartwarming and of course, being back at Camp was (as always) a much-needed infusion of love. It was wonderful to sing with old friends and new. As hard as it always is to leave Camp, many of us were not as sad as we might have been because we knew we were attending the then-upcoming reunion in a few months. Our singing with campers over the summer was mentioned at the Reunion as a great way to connect alums with campers. Christy Schilling came up with a great idea between her two musical visits to camp. She suggested that alumnae could teach the songs to staff during staff training so that they could, in turn, teach them to campers over the summer. We are in the process of making that happen for summer 2024.

After leaving Camp, the flurry of texts amongst the four of us who sang at the second session was funny, heartwarming, and excited. We (and those of the first session) all had a wonderful time and are inspired to continue. As for the name, here is a quote from one of those texts sent by Christy Schilling: “It’s my understanding that the word troubadour is a storytelling singing group. It’s how news was spread and folklore shared. I think that sums us up perfectly….I just blurted it out. But I think it is a cool term going forward. Already catching on!!!!” Like the spirit, our Camp songs last a lifetime.


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